21 April 2014

Would I Ever Be Able To Repatriate?

Occasionally — very occasionally — I toy with the idea of returning to the United States, and wonder how easy or hard that might be. Would I be able to re-integrate? Because the longer I live outside the United States the less I know about how things work there, and the thought of what I don’t know anymore is paralyzing. How could I get anything done, order phone service, buy medicines, use a gas station? When I last visited the States four years ago I had no idea you had to swipe your own credit card at some cash registers. I stood in the drugstore like — well, like a foreigner, with my arm extended, trying to give the cashier my card. (A belated thank-you to the nice, patient person who explained what I needed to do in slow and clear English!)

I read somewhere recently that an expat is a foreigner in two countries, and there may be some truth to that. Besides the simple tasks I seem no longer to know how to accomplish in the States, there’s a whole vocabulary I no longer understand. When I left the United States, bundling meant wrapping yourself up in a warm blanket on a cold, winter night, hopefully with your honey to keep you warm; apple picking meant lifting up your arm under an apple tree and harvesting the fruit; an earworm would have been a terribly disgusting thing to have crawling inside your ears; to flog meant to beat someone with a whip or a stick; a hotspot was where it was happening, baby; and a tweet was the sound a bird might make. Do you see how out of it I am? I sometimes don’t have a clue as to what my American friends are talking about on Facebook, either. Example? A friend posted a question, which I didn’t understand, and here was the answer: The update comes with the background app refresh function on, which allows apps to refresh their content when using Wi-Fi or cellular in the background. Huh?

And should it ever happen that I do decide to repatriate, where would I repatriate to? With no fixed address anymore, the entire country spreads out before me. That, too, is paralyzing. I’ve always been drawn to the Northeast, but my mantra is NO MORE SNOW, so that would seem to rule out the very area I’m most drawn to. I don’t think that at this late stage of my life I could tolerate living in Red America, so that rules out some of the most beautiful and scenic states like, say, Arizona. Should I follow a much earlier fantasy of mine, and move to France? No, wait, that’s just more ex-patriating, more culture shock, with a language I once spoke but don’t anymore, more mountains of bureaucracy to plow through. Mon dieu!

And what on earth has happened to my husband, Mark, in this blog full of "I, I, I?" Well, while I’m fantasizing about moving and wondering about reverse culture shock, he’s as happy in Brazil as a pinto no lixo. Perhaps happier. He says he feels more at home in Brazil than anywhere else he's ever lived. No, this strange feeling of being vaguely betwixt and between is mine alone. But there’s something else lurking behind any worry I might have about repatriation difficulties. It’s something I read in a book by Tony Parsons called "One For My Baby," where the main character speaks of "the sense of endless possibility that every expat experiences, the feeling that your life has somehow opened up, that you are finally free to become exactly who you want to be. When you come back home you discover that you are suddenly your old self again." Wow. Return to being my old self? That, too, is a paralyzing thought.

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